PUBLISHED: 15:50 24 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013
It can be expensive to run a horse, but Kent riders are enjoying the pleasures of horse 'ownership' at only a fraction of the time and cost, thanks to a new scheme running in Maidstone
Man and horse share a special bond and in the UK nearly five million of us ride. Yet for many, the time and cost commitment of horses is a barrier to enjoying the pleasure of a regular partnership with our equine friends.
Understanding this predicament has inspired Kent equestrian mother and daughter team, Dora and Clara Pilkington, to launch an innovative 'sharing' scheme at their yard in Thurnham, near Maidstone.
Equi Timeshare, as the name suggests, offers riders more than just a weekly riding lesson. The scheme at Coldblow Equestrian Centre gives members regular, full or half-day access to a chosen horse to ride and care for as their own.
"It really is horse ownership on your terms," explains Dora, who says the beauty of the scheme lies in its flexibility and savings. "Horses are a major undertaking and Equi Timeshare allows people to enjoy the pleasure without the full-time commitment."
With daily fees ranging from £15 to £30, Equi Timeshare members have the freedom to hack out over the nearby North Downs, take a lesson with the school's instructors or compete at professional events.
And when the riding's over, mucking in - or out - with a few jobs around the yard reduces costs.
"The benefits speak for themselves," says Dora, "Owners usually have to budget for feed, saddlery, insurance, bedding and vets fees, not to mention the unforeseen expenses. Our members don't have these overheads. We take care of them."
While some private owners offer similar arrangements, it's unusual to find a public scheme like Dora's and it's clear the idea is working well.
"Feedback from members is incredibly positive," she says. "Many have families and full-time jobs, so they love being able to balance both worlds, home and horses."
A further glance around the Pilkingtons' large, modern yard near Detling reveals that Coldblow is far from your average riding establishment. Above the large stable block is a purpose-built lecture room for the students who train at the centre. Then there are the youngsters who enjoy its supervised weekend clubs. But most striking of all are the large brown eyes and golden coats of Dora's three Henson horses.
Ash, Enya and Quidditch are three of only five Hensons living in the UK. Brought to England from northern France, these beautiful horses have the distinct honey colouring of their parentage - Norwegian Fjord ponies and Thoroughbreds. And while largely unheard of in England, Dora believes it won't be long before these friendly, adaptable horses grow in popularity.
"They are just a joy to own," says Dora, whose own interests in carriage driving led her to the breed. "There's not an activity they can't master." A point born out by the achievements of this trio who have already trekked across France, pulled the carriage of Sophie the Countess of Wessex and excelled at the unusual pastime of polocrosse. "We have to keep up with them, not the other way round," she laughs.
Looking forward to the summer Dora has high hopes Equi Timeshare and her growing stable yard will help even more riders enjoy the rewarding pleasures of life in the saddle. "There is something very special about the relationship you build with horses," she adds,"and if we can help others share even a little of this, I'm happy."
Sarah Howarth, 43, from Maidstone is an Equi Timeshare member. Through the scheme Sarah spends two days a week with Quidditch, Coldblow's youngest Henson. "It's a great idea and makes a lot of sense," says Sarah who has tried similar schemes in Europe.
"I often have to travel with work and have my family, so the flexibility of Equi Timeshare is brilliant"
Sarah may only ride twice a week but the pair have bonded quickly. "Quidditch is only four, so he's the baby of the yard. But he's so bright and willing to please that he's learning fast."
Last summer the pair entered their first dressage competition and were delighted to come second. "I haven't ridden competitively since I was teenager and he was the youngest horse there", says Sarah, "So I was absolutely thrilled for us. We're learning together. He's such a bold little character, I love every minute with him."